Ontoroerend Goed –a Belgian theatre company internationally renowned for their innovative, brave and confronting work – return true to form with their latest production, Sirens.
The piece opens with six women dressed in ball-gowns standing in front of music stands, as though preparing for an operatic performance. However, when the all-female cast (who also wrote the piece) open their mouths to sing, out pours a cacophony of wails, yells and cries. The name assigned to this explosive piece is literally meant: these women are sirens, and they scream.
Their subject: gender inequality, and it’s worth screaming about. Words – everyday sexism stories, disjointed internal monologues, misogynistic jokes – and sounds – guttural, animalistic noise and beautiful harmonic chanting – comprise a kind of musical score that forms the structure of the piece.
Simple yet highly effective in form, this mock musical performance can soon be seen as a metaphor for the ‘act’ women put on in real life; that is to say, the roles women are pushed into playing by society. They find themselves bitching about other women – “I hate Cameron Diaz, Katy Perry, Natalie Portman, Sharapova- is a skank” – until the list gets out of control as they ironically hate women “who hate other women”.
They play out the subordinate roles that women are pushed into, even by their partners- “Call me a slut. I cleaned the whole house. Hit me please”. They recite an endless list of over-priced beauty products targeted at women (with the comic exception of products from Aldi, all £1.49) only to hear later the consequences of the beauty industry as one actress bursts out with “I want another face”.
This troupe know exactly how to use direct address to push and pull the audience in uncomfortable directions. We watch the women scream to an orgasmic climax as they comically masturbate their imaginary penises, to later watch another actor scream solo with her mouth tightly closed in a grim depiction of the experience of rape. They make us their confidante when they reveal their sexual fantasies… but then make us a potential threat to their safety: “you mustn’t be offended if I cross the street away from you”.
Just an hour long, the play is resoundingly powerful in its communication of gender inequality. If there is to be a fault, it is that any firm feminist is already well aware of the problems that this play does so well to expose. The play doesn’t reveal anything new, apart from the odd sexist joke (“What is the excess flesh around a vagina called? A woman.”) But perhaps this was deliberate. The problems aren’t new, and resolution is far off. Indeed, the play does not resolve, but there is a glimmer of hope. The last voice left speaking is confident, powerful and urgent. She wants ‘to have more confidence in female leaders’. She wants ‘to carry the heavy stuff’. She doesn’t want ‘to feel like the other, the second one, the weaker one.’ She wants ‘to be equal’.
For more information, or to buy tickets, please visit: http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/sirens/